Matthew's account of the three wise men came alive for us while we were living in Central Asia. Our daily walk to the bazaar often included many "National Geographic moments," my name for encounters with people who looked like they belonged in the pages of that magazine I used to thumb through every month while I was growing up.
Old men with long, white, distinctly Asian beards and leathery skin etched with wrinkles that spoke of their dispositions, robed in full-length quilted "chapans" and wearing the square black caps embroidered with the insignia of their particular tribal group were among the colorful characters we might encounter on any given day. These were people with roots. They could trace their ancestry back centuries, not decades. It seemed likely that at least one of them might be a direct descendant of the wise men from the Book of Matthew. Early Central Asian Christians claimed at least one of them as their own. And indeed, tradition tells us that the men were most likely from Persia (which included Central Asia), India, and Babylon or possibly Ethiopia.
Matthew's account of the wise men is striking because these men were clearly not Jewish. They were pagan stargazers who learned about the birth of Christ through their study of the heavenly bodies. This shouldn't really surprise us. David tells us in Psalm 19 that the heavens declare the glory of God and the skies proclaim the work of His hands.
Living in a place almost entirely devoid of any Christian witness or knowledge, we were often amazed to find that nonetheless God was already at work in people’s hearts, preparing them for the good news of God's love in Christ. In that place, it was easy to anticipate skepticism or even outright hostility from people with whom we shared the gospel. It was often difficult to muster the courage needed to speak out in that context. But so many times we found that the good news we shared fit into a pattern of God's preparation in people's lives. Eventually those people in whom God was at work recognized Jesus as Lord and King and received Him with overwhelming joy and then served Him with a dedication that inspires us to this Day.
As you walk in your "bazaar" this holiday season, remember that God may already be at work in the people around you. Meditate on Matthew's account of the wise men, those unlikely recipients of the knowledge of God's Messiah. Listen to the Holy Spirit and obey His prompting. You may be looking at a wise man or woman, someone who has not yet bowed before the Savior but nonetheless is becoming aware of God's work in the world where they live. You may hold the key to their overwhelming joy!